White women assuming sexual power over black men is not a new story, says Robert Reece, of news that Danny Brown received unwanted oral sex on stage.
In news that didn’t make the headlines, a few weeks ago, on April 26, Detroit based rapper Danny Brown received unwanted oral sex on stage while on tour in Minneapolis. According to reports (and some stuff you can kinda make out in this camera-phone video), this young white woman jumped on stage while Brown was rapping, pulled his penis from his pants, and began to give him oral sex on the stage in the middle of this show. He didn’t stop the show; he continued rapping, though he eventually pulled away. Though he hasn’t released a statement, and almost certainly won’t, this is clearly an instance of sexual coercion. But, as a rapper, with some of the typical misogynist lyrics and a hypermasculine image to maintain, he will likely internalize the trauma of this incident, and this faceless white woman will fade away quietly into the night unscathed, while debates ensue about whether Brown actually wanted this oral sex.
This is an all-too-familiar narrative when black bodies are claimed sexually by white people itching to sample the taboo that is feral black sexuality. Our penises are unyielding ; our vaginas are cavernous. Both are insatiable, and eternally available to those brave enough to risk falling victim to our savage black genitalia. This alleged insatiability provided the impetus for the wives of slave owners to abuse black women slaves in retaliation for their husband’s infidelity (i.e. rape of black women), justified the murder of black men for consensual relationships with white women, and excused (and continues to ignore) a largely unexplored area of history: the sexual assault of black male slaves by white women.
Historian Thomas Foster dives into this latter concept in a 2011 article in The Journal of the History of Sexuality. Though these antebellum relationships between black male slaves and white women were inherently relationships of extreme power differences even if they were consensual, Foster cites cases where black men were explicitly coerced into sexual activity by white women. Black male slaves could be ordered to have sex with white women and threatened with a trip to the auction block or physical terror unless they complied, and white women made full use of their standing in selecting their partners to ensure discretion and domination as in the following example:
…the [white] woman preyed on more than one man… [she] “did not make advances . . . to her father’s more intelligent servants” but singled out for sexual assault instead a man “over whom her authority could be exercised with less fear of exposure” because he was so traumatized. Such a man, it is suggested, had been terrorized into submission on the plantation, and she took advantage of his state of mind to force herself upon him—with the threat of additional punishment if he did not accept her assault and if he did not keep it clandestine. (p. 462)
This power over male slaves, and eventually black freed men, extended beyond the women of slave owning families. White women could manipulate white men’s fear of untamed black male sexuality and use it to their advantage in pursuing relationships with black men by threatening to claim they were raped if the man refused her advances or revealed them to the public. A rape claim, especially by a woman of supposed “good character and moral standing,” would mean certain mutilation and perhaps death of the accused black man.
Note: This doesn’t discount the history of “immoral” white women also falling victim to the violence of white men for interracial liaisons. The Klan, and other white supremacist groups and random mobs of white men, would also occasionally inflict violence upon white women who slept with black men when the woman had a reputation for being promiscuous. Also, not all black men accused of rape by white women were innocent; we know that is not the case.
Unfortunately, over the years, black men have begun to embrace this image of wild sexuality, hoping that we can protect ourselves from assault and objectification by reclaiming the very image of beastliness and danger that whites used as justification for our enslavement and lynching. But this reclamation project is proving unsuccessful as our hypermasculine, hypersexual posturing only seems to make our bodies even more available. This hyper availability manifests in a variety of ways. At its least destructive, white women stare at my crotch as I walk across Duke’s campus. And at its most extreme, the hypermasculinity of Danny Brown emboldened this white woman to publically help herself to his body and avoid consequences. Also falling somewhere on the spectrum is Amanda Bynes’s assertion that she wants rapper Drake to murder her vagina.
In each case, there is no recourse for the powerless. I can’t yell at every white woman who ogles my zipper. Drake isn’t allowed to tell Amanda Bynes that he doesn’t want to murder her vagina (not without resorting to decrying her looks or sanity). And Danny Brown must be silent, and his assailant will probably go unpunished; he will almost certainly refuse to publicly identify as a victim, a stance that we must acknowledge, but he wouldn’t be the first sexual assault victim to downplay or completely ignore what appears to be his victimhood because of the stigma attached to being a victim, especially for men, especially for black men. The fact is, where the power and privilege of the combinations of gender and race are involved, our bodies are not always our own; they are constantly subject to the use of the powerful, in this case, white women. And though men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual assault, even against other men, Danny Browns are certainly more common than we think, and we can’t continue to ignore it. We have to deconstruct this hyperbolic image of black sexuality and hypermasculinity and take measures to remove the stigma of victimhood so that we can reduce instances of objectification and hold everyone accountable when he or she chooses to take steal the agency of another person.